NSS 75th Anniversary Convention

Minerals & Rockhounding in Nevada

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Nevada manages 264 million acres of land and more than 560 million acres of subsurface minerals. These public lands offer a broad range of outdoor activities that include collecting resources such as firewood, gemstones, pine nuts and fossils for personal enjoyment and use. But, you should be aware of the conditions...

Minerals such as gold, silver and opals found on mining claims belong to the claim holder. Mining claim records may be viewed at BLM and county recorder offices. On unclaimed sites, gemstones and common rock specimens may be collected for private use. Gold and silver may be prospected for with hand tools including pans and metal detectors.

Sluicing, dredging and commercial mining require permits. Recreational panning which does not involve mechanical equipment is permitted in wilderness and wilderness study areas if it does not create surface disturbance or impair the environment. Collection of prehistoric tools and chips made of precious or semiprecious stones is not allowed.

The same general rules apply to land overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, but recreational prospectors should check with that agency for additional restrictions. Prospecting is generally prohibited in national parks, and trespassing and prospecting is illegal on Indian reservations without permission from the tribal authorities. Trespassing and prospecting is both illegal and dangerous on lands controlled by the military.

Click on the links to learn more about each mineral.

Nevada Opals

The Virgin Valley opal fields in northern Nevada produce a wide variety of precious black, crystal, white, fire, and lemon opals. These mineraloids, which have weathered out of the in-place deposits, are alluvial and considered placer deposits. The largest unpolished black opal in the Smithsonian Institution, known as the Roebling opal, came out of the tunneled portion of Nevada's Rainbow Ridge Mine in 1917, and weighs 2,585 carats.

The black fire opal is the official gemstone of Nevada.

Image by Reno Chris via Wikimedia Commons

Virgin Valley Opals
Nevada Gold

Nevada is the most mineral rich state in the nation. Almost 80% of all the gold in the United States, comes from Nevada - which produces over 5 million troy ounces per year.

The Great Basin is one of the world's most prolific metallogenic provinces and produces about 11% of the total world production of gold. Additionally, this region is rich in silver and copper deposits. Total gold production from Nevada recorded from 1835 to 2008 totals over US $228 billion dollars at 2011 prices.

Image by US Geological Survey

Nevada Gold
Nevada Turquoise

With more than 120 mines, Nevada is one of the country's major producers of turquoise. Most is found as nuggets, fracture fillings and in breccias as the cement filling interstices between fragments. Some of this unusually coloured turquoise may contain significant zinc and iron, which is the cause of the beautiful bright green to yellow-green shades.

Major turquoise deposits in Nevada occur along a wide belt of tectonic activity that coincides with the state's zone of thrust faulting. It strikes about N15°E and extends from the northern part of Elko County, southward down to the California border southwest of Tonopah.

Image by Adrian Pingstone via Wikimedia Commons

Nevada Turquoise
Nevada Silver

In 1864, the Nevada Territory committed $400 million in silver from the Comstock Lode to finance the American Civil War. Union sympathizers were so eager to gain statehood for Nevada that they rushed to send the entire state constitution by telegraph to the United States Congress before the presidential election and they did not believe that sending it by train would guarantee that it would arrive on time. The constitution was sent October 26-27, 1864. The transmission took two days. It consisted of 16,543 words and cost $4303.27 ($59,294.92 in 2010 dollars) to send. Four days later, Nevada became the 36th state in the US.

Nevada's motto, "Battle Born", commemorates her rush to statehood - even though no Civil War battles were ever held on her soil.

Image by US Geological Survey

The Silver State
Nevada Garnets

Garnet displays the greatest variety of color of any mineral, occurring in every color except blue. An alluvial deposit of almandite garnet is found along Hampton Creek Canyon in White Pine County about 5 miles outside of Ely. This site is nationally known for its very dark colored garnets found in a flow of banded rhyolitic volcanic rock.

Crystals from Garnet Hill exhibit sharp terminations and a sparkling luster and make attractive mineral specimens. They are dark maroon red to black in color and average between one quarter to one half inch in size.

Image by Matt Bowers, Third Media

Garnet Hill
Nevada Variscite

Variscite is a bright green to yellowish green phosphate mineral with a chemical composition of AlPO4.2H2O. It has been produced from a few locations in Nevada and can be cut and polished into beautiful cabochons. Variscite is often found associated with turquoise because both minerals form above the water table in the near-surface environment and require a source of phosphate.

Image by Smithsonian Institute

Nevada Variscite - Smithsonian Institute
Nevada Rhodonite

A small amount of rhodonite has been found in Nevada. Rhodonite is a pink manganese silicate mineral that is cut into cabochons, beads, small sculptures, and other lapidary projects.

As a manganese inosilicate, (Mn, Fe, Mg, Ca)SiO3, rhodonite is a member of the pyroxenoid group of minerals, crystallizing in the triclinic system. It commonly occurs as cleavable to compact masses with a rose-red color, often tending to brown because of surface oxidation. Pink rhodonite contrasting with black manganese oxides is sometimes used as gemstone material as seen in this specimen from Humboldt County, Nevada.

Image by US Geological Survey

Nevada Rhodonite
Nevada Beryl

Beryl is a mineral that contains a significant amount beryllium. Beryllium is a very rare metal and that limits the occurrence of beryl to a few geological situations where beryllium is present in sufficient amounts to form minerals. It mainly occurs in in granite and granite pegmatites, but can also be found where carbonaceous shale, limestone, and marble have been acted upon by regional metamorphism.

The hexagonal crystals of beryl may be very small or range to several meters in size. Terminated crystals are relatively rare. Pure beryl is colorless, but it is frequently tinted by impurities; possible colors are green, blue, yellow, red, and white.

Image by Dave Dyet

Nevada Beryl
Nevada Selenite

Selenite, satin spar, desert rose, and gypsum flower are four varieties of the mineral gypsum; all four varieties show obvious crystalline structure. The four "crystalline" varieties of gypsum are sometimes grouped together and called selenite. All varieties, including selenite and alabaster, are composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate (meaning it has two molecules of water), with the chemical formula CaSO4 2H2O. Selenite contains no significant selenium. The similarity of names comes from both substances being named from the Ancient Greek word for the Moon.

Formed as an evaporative mineral, gypsum is frequently found in alkaline lake muds, clay beds, evaporated seas, salt flats, salt springs, and caves. Gypsum occurs on every continent and is the most common of all the sulfate minerals.

Image by Jeff Moser, BikeCarson.com / Creative Commons

Nevada Selenite
Nevada Copper

Ely, Nevada owes its existence to the nearby porphyry copper deposits discovered early in the 20th century. At one time, the open-pit mines were the largest human-made hole on the planet.

The Nevada Northern Railroad was created to haul copper ore from Ely to the Southern Pacific Railroad to the north. At a time when the United States was heavily adopting residential electrical power, the mines at Ely, Nevada were the dominant source of copper used in transmission lines.

Although the railroad isn't used to move copper these days, it still exists as a fully-functioning museum offering short-line excursions through the mining district. And Ely's copper mine is still one of the largest employers in the county.

Image by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Refined copper. Photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Nevada Stibnite

Stibnite, sometimes called antimonite, is a sulfide mineral with the formula Sb2S3. This soft grey material crystallizes in an orthorhombic space group. It is the most important source for the metalloid antimony. The name is from the Greek stibi through the Latin stibium as the old name for the mineral and the element antimony.

Stibnite has a structure similar to that of arsenic trisulfide, As2S3. The Sb(III) centers, which are pyramidal and three-coordinate, are linked via bent two-coordinate sulfide ions. It is grey when fresh, but can turn superficially black due to oxidation in air.

Pastes of Sb2S3 powder have been used since ca. 3000 BC as eye cosmetics in the Middle East. It was used to darken the brows and lashes, or to draw a line around the perimeter of the eye. Antimony trisulfide finds use in pyrotechnic compositions, namely in the glitter and fountain mixtures.

Image by User:pepperedjane on Wikimedia, Creative Commons

Nevada Stibnite
Nevada Cinnabar

Cinnabar is the common ore of mercury. It is generally found in a massive, granular or earthy form and is bright scarlet to brick-red in color. It occasionally occurs in crystals with a non-metallic adamantine luster. Cinnabar resembles quartz in its symmetry and certain of its optical characteristics. It has the highest refractive power of any mineral. Because of its mercury content, cinnabar can be toxic to human beings.

Generally, cinnabar occurs as a vein-filling mineral associated with recent volcanic activity and alkaline hot springs. It's deposited by epithermal ascending aqueous solutions (those near the surface and not too hot) far removed from their igneous source. Cinnabar is found in all localities that yield mercury. This mineral is still being deposited in the present day from the hot waters of Sulphur Bank Mine in California and Steamboat Springs, Nevada.

Image by Reno Chris at en.wikipedia, Creative Commons

Nevada Cinnabar
Nevada Azurite

Azurite is a soft, deep blue copper mineral produced by weathering of copper ore deposits. The mineral, a carbonate, has been known since ancient times, and was mentioned in Pliny the Elder's Natural History under the Greek name kuanos. While not a major ore of copper itself, the presence of azurite is a good surface indicator of the presence of weathered copper sulfide ores. It is usually found in association with the chemically very similar malachite, producing a striking color combination of deep blue and bright green.

The intense color of azurite makes it a popular collector's stone. However, bright light, heat, and open air all tend to reduce the intensity of its color over time.

Image by Dave Ault, Wikimedia Commons

Nevada Azurite
Nevada Barite

Baryte, or barite, (BaSO4) is a mineral consisting of barium sulfate. The baryte group consists of baryte, celestine, anglesite and anhydrite. Baryte is generally white or colorless, and is the main source of barium.

Baryte occurs in a large number of depositional environments, and is deposited through a large number of processes including biogenic, hydrothermal, and evaporation, among others. Baryte commonly occurs in lead-zinc veins in limestones, in hot spring deposits, and with hematite ore.

Image by Reno Chris at en.wikipedia, Creative Commons

Nevada Barite